The bay leaf tends to get a bit ignored these days but it didn’t always have such an inconsequential role in cookery. It’s Greek name Daphne is a nod to an ancient myth in which a river nymph must be transformed into a bay tree to protect her from the lusty pursuits of the God Apollo. This association with nobility is the reason bay was used to adorn the heads of early Olympian athletes and later, Roman emperors.
History also sees bay used for its many medicinal benefits. In his publication The Complete Herbal (1663) Nicholas Culpeper lists it as being “singularly good” for use by women to treat difficulties in the womb, bowl and bladder.
I love the flavour of bay but it can be tricky to pin down and is rarely experienced alone. Presence of eugonol gives it a similiar note to clove and makes it an excellent partner to warm earthy spices, beans and tomatoes. In addition to bay’s typical use in soups and stews it can also be a flavourful addition to puddings and sweet dishes. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is with a milk infusion, which can then be used for custard, ice-cream or even a sharp lemon tart. I encourage you to try the recipe below and give the not so humble bay leaf greater consideration in your cooking repertoire.
- 450ml milk
- 5 bay leaves
- two centimetre long piece of lemon peel, white pith removed.
- Place all of your ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and warm gently.
- Bring carefully to the boil and simmer for five minutes before removing from the heat.
- Set aside for half an hour before removing the bay leaves. Cool and use the milk as required.